Introducing the hunger hormone: Ghrelin

Hunger stimulating and hunger suppressing hormones work together


Since 1994, several hunger hormones have been identified. Most act as appetite inhibitors – they tells us when were full. However, the hormone ghrelin is a powerful appetite stimulant. Ghrelin is produced by the stomach and the amount produced depends on how full the stomach is. As we eat, the stomach fills up and ghrelin levels fall, so we feel less hungry. After eating, ghrelin levels slowly increase as the stomach empties. The longer we go between meals, the more ghrelin in our system, so the hungrier we feel.

Ghrelin is also the reason many dieters feel much hungier than can be explained by their reduced calorie intake alone. The problem is that if the stomach is never truly full, ghrelin levels never fall to zero so they are always hungry. Even worse, a chronically empty stomach tells the body there is a famine on the way, so high ghrelin levels also increase fat storage. Not only does this tend to sabotage the diet, but studies have shown ghrelin levels remain higher than normal for up to a year after a strict diet. This is why many people lose weight on diets only to regain it all and more as soon as they start eating normally again.

One of the issues for a coeliac who has ingested gluten is the effect on hunger. After a couple of days of an empty stomach due to nausea and diarrhoea, once my stomach settles my appetite returns with a vengeance (hence the bag of Tesco Twists at 9pm last night). For the next week or so I’m constantly hungry, especially for sweet and starchy treats. Since it’s unlikely a single case of eating gluten has damaged my intestines enough to cause a nutrient deficiency, it’s probably a hormone effect.

The good news is there are several ways to manage ghrelin levels. Eating every 3-4 hours ensures you never get too hungry, and having plenty of fibre and fluid helps to fill up the stomach. However, by far the best way to reduce ghrelin is to work out, as exercise suppresses ghrelin production. This is why I will be hitting the gym hard as soon as I feel better!

The Score for 3 February:

Calories: Protein: Carbs: Sugars: Fat: Sat Fat: Fibre:  
2177 85.44g 280.26g 111.85g 74.24g 13.38g 41.45g  
16% 52%   32%    
Calories burned through exercise: 0      

What I ate:

Time Item Amount
09:15 Centrum Multivitamin,  Vitamin E 400IU, Vitamin D 25 µg
Tap water 250mL
Soft boiled eggs, 2 large 125g
Free From pure oats 50g
made with boiling water 250mL
topped with sultanas 25g
and ground flaxseed 10g
Black Tea 450mL
12:45 Tesco finest vine ripened tomato and lentil soup 300g
Nairns gluten free wholegrain crackers 28g
Lactofree skimmed milk 250mL
Yakult light 65mL
Fresh mango 118g
13:30 Fresh ginger tea with a splash of lemon juice and 1 tsp honey 250mL
14:15 Black tea with lactofree skimmed milk and sugar 450mL
16:30 Genius brown sliced gluten free bread, 2 slices toasted 67g
with SunPat crunchy peanut butter 31g
and honey 12g
17:30 Decaf black tea with lactofree skimmed milk and sugar 450mL
20:00 Vegetable stew with black eyed beans 396g
21:00 Tesco Twists cheese and onion 80g

Image Copyright: <a href=’’>designua / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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